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Gordon Brown

Born in Scotland in 1951, Gordon Brown is the second of three sons. He grew up in the town of Kirkcaldy, an industrial centre famed for its linoleum and mining industries, during a time of rising unemployment and desperate poverty. Gordon Brown's parents, John and Elizabeth, were influential figures in his life. His father was a Minister of the Church and played a central part in town life. Mr Brown remembers his father more for his interest in helping people than for his theological zeal. He often helped those in desperate circumstances who saw the minister's house as their only refuge for help. Mr Brown married his wife Sarah at their home in North Queensferry on 3 August 2000. They have two sons, John and Fraser.

Mr Brown did well at school from an early age. At the age of ten, he joined Kirkcaldy High School, where he excelled at sport and joined in every aspect of school life, quickly becoming popular, and taking an early interest in local political campaigns. He took his exams a year ahead of his contemporaries - his 'O' Levels at 14, his Highers at 15. When he came top of a bursary competition, he went on to university at age 15 - one of the youngest students to go to Edinburgh University since the war.

Mr Brown enjoyed student politics and the debates in the student newspaper, which he edited in a prize-winning year. He also continued with his passion for sport. Just before he went to university, Mr Brown injured his eye playing for his school team at rugby which eventually resulted in detached retinas in both eyes. He spent much of his early years at university in hospital or recuperating. Having gained a First Class honours degree and a number of prizes for his studies, Mr Brown became the youngest ever Rector of Edinburgh University in 1972.

In his working life, Mr Brown spent time as a university and college lecturer and also wrote a number of books. His book on James Maxton is about the early Labour MPs and their struggles. 'Values, Visions and Voices' is a study of the idealism and zeal of Labour's early thinkers. And 'The Real Divide', written with Robin Cook, is a study of poverty and inequality. More recently, a collection of his speeches has been published as 'Moving Britain Forward'.

After unsuccessfully fighting Michael Ancram for the Conservative seat of Edinburgh South in 1979, Mr Brown became MP for Dunfermline East in 1983 with a majority of 11,000. In 1983, as MP for Dunfermline East and Chair of the Labour Party's Scottish Council, Mr Brown shared his first office in the House of Commons with Tony Blair and the two became friends. Mr Brown's maiden speech was on the growing problem of unemployment, of which he said: "The chance of a labourer getting a job in my constituency is 150 to 1 against. There is only one vacancy in my local career office for nearly 500 teenagers who have recently left school."

Identified early on by Neil Kinnock as a rising talent, Mr Brown became Shadow Spokesman for Trade and Industry, working with John Smith, and the two formed a close working relationship. When John Smith became leader, he appointed Gordon Brown to be Shadow Chancellor. After John Smith's sudden death, Mr Brown continued to be Shadow Chancellor and backed Tony Blair for the leadership of the Labour Party. Working together they won a landslide majority in 1997. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown presided over the longest ever period of growth.

Britain has deferred a decision on whether to adopt the European Union's common currency, the euro. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown told Parliament in January 2003 the country was not economically ready to join the euro-zone. Brown, however, did hold out hope that Britain could join in the coming years, saying a special referendum could be held on the issue. He also made the Bank of England independent and delivered an agreement at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005 to support the world's poorest countries and tackle climate change.

Following his appointment as Prime Minister on 27 June 2007, Gordon Brown stood on the steps of Downing Street and made a pledge to the British people: "On this day I remember words that have stayed with me since my childhood and which matter a great deal to me today, my school motto: "I will try my utmost". This is my promise to all of the people of Britain and now let the work of change begin."

Brown was plagued by a difficult first year. Early favorable polls gave rise to talk of a snap election in the fall of 2007, but the plans were suddenly scrapped when poll numbers began to wane. Since then Brown and his party steadily lost support in several important elections, including for the Mayor of London. In July 2008, the Labour Party and the remaining 16 affiliated unions met to agree on a framework (dubbed the Warwick II Agreement) that outlined the major workforce-related commitments for an eventual fourth term for Labour. In return, the affiliated unions committed to fund and engage in election campaign activities. The agreement included commitments to lower the age threshold for the minimum wage from 22 to 21, consider not-for-profit training operating companies, more apprenticeships in the public sector, and stricter requirements for companies winning public sector contracts to treat workers fairly and remove pay inequalities.

Equally significant was the omission from Warwick of longstanding union demands not addressed in Labour's first two terms, e.g. the right to engage in secondary strike activity and compulsory participation in private pension schemes. During its third term, the government has reiterated its commitment to the Warwick agenda, though emphasizing that the reforms outlined in the Agreement constitute good public policy, rather than highlighting promises to a union constituency. Unions generally gave the government only fair marks on its follow through to the original Warwick agreement of July 2004, although it has made strides in a number of those commitments, such as reforming the pension system, introducing additional paid holidays, investing in skills training, and passing laws on corporate manslaughter.

A terrible by-election defeat in Scotland on 23 July 2008, in which a formerly rock-solid Labour seat with a 13,000 majority fell to the Scottish National Party left the Labour Party reeling and fueled fears among MPs that Gordon Brown's leadership of the party, and his premiership, may be beyond repair. For the first time in Labour's eleven-year reign, Labour MPs are experiencing what it is to be truly unpopular and fear they are facing meltdown at the next election, which must be held no later than June 2010.

According to a 28 July 2008 YouGov poll, if a general election were called now, the Tories would receive 46 percent of the vote, while Labour would take just 26 percent and the Liberal Democrat Party 17 percent; 74 percent of respondent said they were dissatisfied with Brown's performance as PM. In this febrile atmosphere, Westminster was buzzing with news that dissident MPs were canvassing their colleagues to find a new leader, while at the same time Cabinet ministers lined up to warn MPs to stop plotting and unite behind Brown.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Justice Secretary Jack Straw were the two most frequently mentioned, and likely, successors -- Miliband as the "Labour David Cameron" to represent the Blairite wing of the party or Straw as a Labour elder statesman to bind the Party together. Other credible names in circulation were Brown confidante Secretary of State for Children and Schools Ed Balls, House of Commons Labour Leader Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell, and Health Secretary Alan Johnston.

Given the improbability that Brown would step down voluntarily, the chances of any one of this group of would-be successors, or any dark horses that might emerge, taking over before the scheduled election in 2010 depends on one of them challenging Brown openly for the party leadership. None of them were willing to wield the knife, most likely afraid that such a move would cause a party split that would in the end be an even greater fiasco for Labour.




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Page last modified: 25-06-2016 20:58:06 ZULU